What can we do to push UNHCR to give us accurate statistics about refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo

What should we do to end these UNHCR provocations in the Democratic Republic of Congo about the statistics of refugees? you can also download this document here ” Fake refugee statistics in DRC by UNHCR

Some people believe and say that “a mistake repeated many times, becomes often a choice and a decision”. Is this the best direction taken by UNHCR is the Democratic Republic of Congo? UNHCR should know very well that the question of who is who in DRCongo is extremely sensitive and should be addressed with delicacy but UNHCR is seems not be interested in that. In the absence of UNHCR and the state in many parts of the country, refugees have resorted to a copying mechanism of acquiring Congolese Voter’s Cards in order to survive for a while, this is normal and anyone in their situation can do that exactly, obviously there is a hand of politicians behind, UNHCR and all other actors are aware of that but still since 2006 up to now, not much has been done to discourage the politicization of refugees in DRC.

At first in 2021 we believed UNHCR did not have enough information about the situation of refugees in DRCongo, and actually some UNHCR officers had wrong information about refugees for example in North Kivu, where refugees were considered as Congolese by UNHCR. Since 2021 we decided to ensure there is important information that can help UNHCR and other stake-holders to take informed decision by providing details about ignored refugees and yet who exist and we remain available to share our observations with anyone interested in this issue. This did not help so much UNHCR to make a progress in her consideration about Rwandan refugees in DRCongo, on contrary UNHCR remained unchanged and reduced the protection space to Rwandan refugees in Goma and her surroundings where we operate from.

In September 2021 for example the verification of refugees was done in secret and thousands of Rwandan refugees were excluded, in December 2021 UNHCR changed the leaders of the Refugee Welfare Council who were Rwandans in Goma and put in place Burundians in order to limit access to information to Rwandan refugees and to suffocate the debate on Rwandan Refugee Protection in the region,  since 2021 up to now, no Rwandan refugee was granted a refugee status in DRC, no one has even been registered as asylum seeker, in 2022 at least more than 75% of Rwandan refugees were excluded from medical treatment offered by UNHCR and from accessing cash-money for the education of their children, the list if long.

Brief UNHCR’s policy in DRC is to discourage the protection of Rwandan refugees, on the other side Rwandan Refugees are calling upon UNHCR to ensure their protection in DRC.  

To make the matter worse on Friday April 21st, 2023 the UNHCR Country Representative in Kinshasa Madame Angele Dikonge Atangana animated a press conference in which she claimed that the Democratic Republic of Congo hosts 75,000 Rwandan refugees and that there are 81,000 Congolese refugees in Rwanda, which will be a point of focus during the tripartite meeting bringing together the DRC, Rwanda and UNHCR, in this month of May 2023. However in the same press conference the UNHCR boss claimed that the DRC Government has advanced hosting more than 209,000 Rwandan refugees, which is also still too small than the real number of Rwandan Refugees who are estimated at around 4 million in DRC. UNHCR statistics were based on that secret verification exercise done in 2021, in Goma for example the verification deliberately excluded Rwandan refugees and it was quickly stopped when UNHCR realized that Rwandan refugees are now getting information.

But now, we have entered the debate of statistics and the exact number of Rwandan refugees in DRC, this is so far a great progress and we need to push for a consensus, now each party claims having its own statistics and surprisingly the DRC Government has its own statistics different from the CNR which is the Government Agency in charge of refugees.

Goma and its surroundings we estimate at 30,000 the number of refugees among them only 5,000 are known by UNHCR, in 2021 only 2,500 were granted the refugee identification card which is a condition in order to access the humanitarian relief aid still around 200 refugees do access some form of humanitarian relief aid generally Burundians.

And the questions remain: What should we do with UNHCR? How long can we stomach this human madness? Who are those UNHCR staffs who decide about the fate of Rwandan refugees in DRC? What is the interests of UNHCR in her policy to ignore these Rwandan Refugees? What are the interests of refugees who are ignored and the interests of the Congolese host communities? What happens if we call upon UNHCR to close her offices in DRC? Who benefits from the presence of UNHCR in DRC? 

We are aware that with the current situation in DRC about the United Nations Institutions any campaign against any UN Agency even if it is the most peaceful one will have severe consequences to UNHCR in DRCongo. Is this what UNHCR is looking for? How would UNHCR gain from all forms of attacks against her in DRC? What are the interests of UNHCR to create opportunities for Congolese people to attach her offices?

On the other way around, what does UNHCR loose if it recognizes the presence of Rwandan refugees in DRC? Even those UNHCR is not in contact with, but indicating in her statement that there should be more refugees who are not yet been in contact with UNHCR and that efforts are being made to reach out to them. Can this strategy of denial from UNHCR hold for long in DRC currently, and how long? Yet everyone is impatient to have a lasting solution to the situation of refugees in the country.

There are thousands of questions which need to be clarified and on our side we strongly disapprove the UNHCR approach and as per now we seem to remain with only one option: Engage on public campaigns against the way UNHCR is handling refugee issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Please share with us any ideas on how best we can we help UNHCR to make some progress on this issue.

Lastly, what is UNHCR lacking in order to clearly inform Rwanda that the so called 81,000 Congolese Refugees in Rwanda which Paul Kagame is talking about in actual sense are all Rwandans? They came to DRC as refugees and settled here, with all these wars, they went back to Rwanda and are still there up to now, Rwanda decided to put them in refugee camps and tagged them as “Congolese refugees”. Who has a different information about this? Who can prove to us that these people in Rwanda are Congolese?

Note: Refugees are not the problem but they have problems.

Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos

Refugee Programme Officer